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‘Talk like a pirate’ day offers chance to highlight maritime safety mission at NGA

By Nancy M. Rapavi, Office of Corporate Communications 

The parody-inspired “Talk like a pirate day” Sept. 19 offers NGA a chance to highlight its role to inform ships and the public about acts of piracy.

While the day encourages pirate-speak and donning period attire, Howard Cohen, branch chief within the Maritime Safety Office, stressed the seriousness of piracy in international waters.

“Today they just don’t hoist the Jolly Roger anymore,” said Cohen, referring to the skull and crossbones flag. “Today pirates come across the bow with high-powered weapons and assault rifles.”

Over 90 percent of world trade is moved by sea and piracy costs shipping companies between $4-8 billion a year, said Cohen.

NGA’s Maritime Safety Office plays a major role in anti-piracy measures by warning ships of attacks using the Anti Shipping Activity Message, or ASAM, database and the World-Wide Navigational Warning Service, or WWNWS.

“The maritime watch mission is to provide information on time-sensitive hazards to navigation that have the potential to endanger international shipping and the safety of lives at sea,” said Chris Janus branch chief for the Maritime Watch within the office of Maritime Safety Office.

The ASAM database contains reports of attacks on vessels while the warning service informs navigators of recent attacks.

“It’s crucial information that can help navigators be aware of where these incidents occurred, what tactics were used and, ultimately, help vessels navigate more safely,” said Janus.

The ASAM database began in 1985 and has collected a total of 6,564 attack reports, said Janus. Advances in technology have made it easier to monitor different sources and collect this valuable information.

But collecting the data is only half of the battle. Timely dissemination and notification are the real benefits and NGA does this through its Maritime Watch, the WWNWS, and the Maritime Safety Information website.

However, dissemination does not translate into prevention, but NGA does provide navigators an added advantage when entering or transiting in the vicinity of piracy attacks, said Janus.